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POV Reimagines the Documentary – Again

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Cross-posted from Knight Blog, the blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

POV has incubated dozens of documentary-based projects at its POV Hackathon lab series, including “Portraits of the Enemies.” (Photo: Concept/photography/videography by Karim Ben Khelifa; coding/design by Jack Kalish and Maria Rabinovich.)

What is POV? Yes, it’s television’s longest-running showcase of independent documentaries. And it may also be the place where, at some point over the last 27 years, you first saw films by Errol Morris or Michael Moore or Frederick Wiseman or Terry Zwigoff or Marshall Curry or Laura Poitras or… I could go on, but POV has never been just a television program. More than that, since its earliest days it’s been an ongoing exercise in bridging independent voices and the public by offering new tools and technology for storytelling and engagement.

By the mid-’90s, when media viewed the Web and interacting with the public as novelties, POV was broadcasting user-generated video on national television, spawning communities through message boards and on its own websites, exploring the aesthetics and business of digital filmmaking, and producing video and games inspired by its documentaries. Much of this work was unprecedented. As POV matured, it created public media’s first interactive storytelling series, the Webby Award-winning “Borders,” and it formalized and shared its pioneering strategies for national engagement campaigns.

In a letter to POV’s online advisers in 1994 — a letter because most of POV’s advisers were not online — POV founder Marc Weiss exclaimed his joy that with the Web: “Finally, the technology is available to start a real dialogue with TV.”

Fast-forwarding 20 years, I feel the same excitement around a multitude of technologies. I see the proliferation of Web-capable personal electronics, of open-source software tools, and of large stores of public data as mechanisms for dialogue. And what’s coming is equally exciting: immersive viewers, wearable computers, 3-D printers. As we learned in the early days of Web, these technologies aren’t novelties — they constitute the ways we will soon be making connections and having new kinds of conversations because of storytelling.

But how does a cash-strapped documentary filmmaker keep up? With funding from Knight Foundation, POV is now able to do a handful of things we’ve never done before in support of the documentary filmmaking community. For the first time in our history, we are hiring a full-time developer — in a one-year fellowship — to help us accelerate our invention process. We are also now seeking submissions from independent media creators and technologists to produce, alongside POV, no fewer than two digital documentaries. And we will be able to continue the expansion of POV Hackathon, our weekend laboratory — now in New York and Los Angeles, and emulated in no fewer than six countries — which since 2012 has provided matchmaking and mentorship to dozens of forward-thinking filmmakers, journalists, artists, developers and designers to “re-invent the documentary for the Web.”

Many of our hypotheses over the next year will be rooted in the rise of mobile technology, building on what we learned a year ago, when we premiered all of our films not on television but on mobile devices, and our more recent experiments with mobile apps. We will be challenged to bring the emotional intensity of the linear documentary in non-linear formats. We will also be challenged not only to create cost-effective tools but also to educate creators on how they can be used.

So we are beginning a new cycle, but we will continue to champion producers who take creative risks and offer them venues for their work to be seen. If that is you, now is the time to connect with POV.

Submit a project for digital co-production at pov.org/submit, apply for POV Digital’s Knight Technology Fellow position at pov.org/jobs, or find out more about the next POV Hackathon labs at pov.org/hackathon.

Adnaan Wasey is executive producer of POV Digital, the Webby Award-winning department that drives storytelling innovation for the PBS documentary series POV, which Knight supports.

Adnaan Wasey
Adnaan Wasey is the Executive Producer of POV Digital, which leads new storytelling iniatives for the PBS documentary series POV. Follow him on Twitter @adnaanwasey, Google+ or LinkedIn. Five documentaries he's into (today): 1. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse 2. Hoop Dreams 3. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters 4. Sweetgrass 5. Last Train Home